Instilling community ownership

Oxfam Pilipinas and its partner Community Organizers Multiversity launched a program to repair the Class 2 water system in Brgy. Taluong on Polillo Island, Quezon Province after it was ruined by Super Typhoon Noru on 25 September 2022. The program involved installing copper faucets at each of the barangay’s 21 watering stations and fixing or replacing the PV pipes that brought water from the main river to the stations. They also held a training for the residents on how to maintain the water system and clean clean the reservoir. (Photo: Vina Salazar/Oxfam Pilipinas)

Community Organizers Multiversity (COM) is a non-government organization based in Mindanao. It was established 20 years ago primarily to respond to the humanitarian crises in areas in the region, which was then – and up to a point, even now – torn by civil war waged by armed groups seeking independence for Moro citizens. Because of its extensive experience in providing humanitarian assistance in difficult-to-reach areas, the CO Multiversity has become one of the reliable partners of Oxfam Pilipinas in implementing its humanitarian programs on the ground.

Evhoy Villaruel, 47, is one of COM’s Project Coordinators. A political science graduate with a higher degree in community development from the University of the Philippines (UP), he has been with Oxfam for 25 years, helping lead and implement the organization’s humanitarian efforts. 

Villaruel is among those who led the Rapid Assessment in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Noru to determine the extent of the damage and the impact on the lives of residents affected and to distribute assistance to beneficiaries on the ground in the form of the Multi-Purpose Cash Transfer and the WASH Assistance. 

“The most successful community-based projects are the ones that the residents of the communities own. Owned in the sense that the residents see themselves as more than just recipients of aid but as partners in maintaining and managing the project to ensure its success and sustainability. Community ownership is critical in social welfare projects, including emergency assistance projects,” Villaruel said. 

Oxfam Pilipinas and COM conducted social investigation activities post Typhoon Noru and coordinated with local officials to plan what efforts could be implemented.  

“We wanted to make sure that the assistance we would be providing would genuinely be useful to people, that the service we were to give is needed. To ensure all this, we listened to the residents’ stories. We came up with the plans for the water system repairs only after gathering documentation.”

Evhoy Villaruel, Project Coordinator
Community Organizers Multiversity

“We at COM are always grateful for this meaningful and productive partnership with Oxfam Pilipinas and its international funders. The work we do is always beneficial to so many Filipinos. Particularly in the emergency assistance efforts in the wake of typhoon Noru, we are glad to have reached the residents of Brgy. Taluong and Brgy. Binibitinan in Polillo, Quezon, and Brgy San Rafael, Brgy Carlagan, and Brgy Anibawan in Burdeos. Both municipalities are part of the Polillo group of islands located at the extreme part of Quezon Province,” he said. 

“Humanitarian aid is only meant to be temporary, but we have seen in our visits to many communities that it is also important that humanitarian organizations and support groups make an effort to at least strive for a little sustainability when it comes to assistance we give,” he said. 

In practice, Evhoy said that sustainability comes in the form of learning discussions and training sessions for affected communities. Like other humanitarian workers of COM, Evhoy tells communities they work with that they – the residents – are the most empowered to ensure useful change in their communities and help build local resilience. 

Pail with cover and water containers were distributed to communities that enabled them to have access to clean water as part of the Super Typhoon Noru Emergency Response implemented by Community Organizers Multiversity and Oxfam Pilipinas. (Photo: Vina Salazar/Oxfam Pilipinas)

The Super Typhoon Noru Emergency Response taught residents how to purify water for emergencies using water purification tablets dissolved in streams or tap water stored in sanitized jerry cans. Barangay officials and barangay health workers were also taught how to maintain the water pipes and tap stands.

“Humanitarian and development work are not separate. They have roots in peace work. Calamities and armed conflict damage lives and livelihoods, and people need immediate help, so the response must also be swift. The social conditions in the Philippines require that many Filipinos be taught to be prepared for calamities and to help others during the same. Compassion for those in need is part of our culture, and the spirit of bayanihan runs strong in Filipinos. We should always cultivate and practice both. The way our country is, humanitarian work is very needed,” he said.